Protein from frogs' eggs could treat brain tumours

In collaboration with the Press Association

A protein found in frog eggs may provide the basis for a new treatment for brain tumours.

Amphinase is an enzyme found in the egg cells of the Northern Leopard frog (Rana pipiens).

The molecule recognises a particular sugary coating found on tumour cells and binds to their surface before invading the cells.

Once inside a tumour cell, amphinase disrupts the cell's normal workings by chopping up strands of RNA - the genetic material that conveys DNA's instructions to a cell's protein factory - causing the tumour to die.

Researchers at the University of Bath, and at Alfacell Corporation in the US believe that this "very exciting" molecule could potentially be used to treat many types of cancer, but its potential in the treatment of brain tumours is of particular interest.

Professor Ravi Acharya, a researcher at the University of Bath's Department of Biology and Biochemistry, said that amphinase appeared to be "highly specific at hunting and destroying tumour cells".

He added that the enzyme could be "easily synthesised in the laboratory and offers great hope as a therapeutic treatment of the future".

A treatment based on amphinase would likely be injected directly into the affected area of the body and, since it is only capable of recognising and binding to the surface of tumour cells, would not be harmful to other, healthy cells.

However the researchers, who have published their findings in the Journal of Molecular Biology, note that the drug is still in the very early stages of development and that any resulting treatment will therefore not be ready for several years. Even then it would have to be proved safe and effective in large-scale clinical trials.

Cancer Research UK's Dr Emma Knight said: "Cancer is such a complicated disease that researchers need to explore all potential avenues. A similar drug to amphinase is currently being tested against cancer in human clinical trials. But it's far too early to comment on whether amphinase could ever be helpful for people with cancer."